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Thursday Youth Connectors: Food For Thought

by Najam Iqbal

Hello, I’m Najam, here to introduce the ‘Food For Thought’ week on the youth segment of ‘Thursday Connectors’. We’re discussing food today and we have an exciting line-up of young writers who’ve connected with us and told us how food impacts on their feelings and memories.

First up, I’ll be sharing a story I wrote for the ‘Write Back’ programme when I was still at school. The story, A Pocket Full Of Chilli Powder, highlights my grandad’s struggles in the 1960s  when he was himself a school kid. For his own safety and in his fight against racism, he’d carry a pack of chillies in his pocket to use as defence in the likelihood of an attack by the skinheads who roamed the streets of east London in those days, looking for trouble. I think you’ll enjoy this. But please do bear in mind, I was 14 when I wrote it!

A Pocket Full Of Chilli Powder

You should always carry a non-lethal weapon. By non-lethal weapon, I mean chilli powder. Now, I will explain the reasons behind this profound statement.

In the early 1960s, my grandad moved to England, along with his mum and dad. As we all know, there were racist groups at the time called skinheads. Skinheads were very dangerous and would beat up other races. Skinheads were lacking in mental development. I say this because, no matter whether you were Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi, you were a ‘Paki’ in their eyes. You would have to face this type of language every day. Skinheads would target Asians and racially abuse them. My grandad had numerous encounters with them.

My grandad was just an average schoolboy attending Little Ilford Secondary School. The only thing that was not average was the fact that he had a pocket full of chilli powder. Nobody knew about this, at the time, not even his parents. Obviously, he only carried it with him for serious circumstances and as a last resort.

It was a normal day at school: my grandad was armed with the chilli powder as usual, and the skinheads were roaming the streets as usual. The school day had finished and my grandad was on his way home from school on his own. Suddenly, three skinheads came out of nowhere and circled him. As they made their way towards him, they began to make racist comments. My grandad was only a teenager at the time and these three skinheads were fully grown men, so he was at an obvious disadvantage. They were going to attack, but little did they know, he was fully prepared for a situation like this. They thought he was scared but, in reality, he was laughing at them. He reached for his pockets, grabbed a handful of chilli powder, threw it into their faces and ran. One skinhead held his eyes in agony and the others rushed to his care – completely dumbfounded as to what had just occurred.

To this day, my grandad is none the wiser as to the plight of those skinheads, after leaving them. Nonetheless, they were defeated.

(C) Najam Iqbal

Although some of the story may now seem funny, isn’t it terrible that the threat of racism was one of my grandad’s main struggles when he was young? Whenever I think of chilli powder, this story comes to mind and I was excited to read it again after so long, when it was put up on the ‘Write Back’ website. I might even follow in my mum’s footsteps and continue to write more of it. I think our family histories, experiences and heritage, are the best inspiration for stories.

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Next, we connect with Zaynah, from East Ham in London, who will be receiving her GCSE results today. Good luck to you, Zaynah, as well as to all the young people who were due to sit their exams this year. Last week’s A’ Level results have already been heavily criticised. Many of my friends struggled within the clearing process with UCAS, and some have decided to quit University altogether for a year. The confusion over predicted grades and the downgrading, along with the huge divides between private, public and postcodes, is mentally exhausting. ‘The year of the Pandemic’ has no doubt played havoc with the lives of us all, in many different ways.

Hi, Zaynah. Let’s connect:

Fond Food Memories

As the temperatures rose this week in the UK, my fond memories of my mother’s country of birth, Pakistan, came rushing in. I was transported back to our frequent holidays there, which we took as a family, to visit her side of the family. The thought of drinking the icy-cold, mango lassi on the rooftop of her maternal home, which my grandad would buy for us from the local bazaar, cooled our insides from the sheer summer heat, making me crave that same taste and sensation now. The longing for the crispy pakoras my grandmother would fry up especially for me, is enough to make me wish I was still there. The tastes from that part of the world always seem so different from the taste of the same foods here. Strange, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, our annual trip this year was cancelled.  I can’t wait, though, for the next time I go back to visit my grandparents, tasting the spicy, crispy samosa chat bought from the rows of bustling street vendors, despite everybody’s warnings of its dangers to our foreign bellies. My cousins and I, running back home, with silly giggles and cheering, would then sit in the cramped seating area of the busy home, whilst chatting and giggling some more, as we shared out the chat into bowls to eat.

Perhaps my favourite memory was when we all came together to celebrate the 14th of August (Independence Day), a great festivity in Pakistan. All of us were assigned to make a special dish by my grandfather and, being his favourite, of course, I won with my amateur dish of sweet rice, which was too soggy and far too sweet!

Although my parents have kept our Pakistani culture strong in our household here in London, with them cooking traditional Pakistani cuisine almost every day, nothing really beats the flavours from the home where most of my summers are spent. The thought of the spicy masalas and tangy chutneys as they hit my taste buds, is an indescribable memory. I can’t wait for the next time we visit and enjoy the delicacies of my mother’s country of birth.

Thank you, Zaynah. That was an amazing insight into your holidays and how much your mother’s culture impacts on your food and memories!

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Next, we connect with Afiyah, who is looking forward to starting her degree in English at Kings College London this September.

Hi, Afiyah. Let’s connect:

Food For Thought

Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved baking and now that I’m 18 and old enough to use the oven by myself, this has developed into a passion. My earliest memories of cakes being made in the house are of my great-grandmother, where she’d mix the batter, throwing in six whole eggs, along with lots of lemon zest. And, although she would always eyeball the measurements, her cakes would be the most fluffy and delicious treats ever.

Since then, I’ve had a knack for baking. Whenever an occasion in the family arises, I’m always the first to jump at the chance to make either the cakes or cupcakes for dessert. Our Eid celebrations this year were extraordinary. Due to the coronavirus and lockdown, we weren’t able to celebrate as decadently as we usually do. Yet, I still wanted there to be desserts for the whole family to enjoy.

I believe desserts are more than just a sweet treat you eat at the end of your meal; it unfolds layers of memories and allows families to reminisce about all the good times that have passed, as well as those that are yet to come.

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Thank you, Afiyah, your deserts look yummy! And finally, we connect with a family who have been sharing their love for food, even though they are living continents apart from each other. Sue Lawton tells us how.

Hi, Sue. Let’s connect:

Ani in Australia

Granny, in Stratford Upon Avon

There is a saying that goes, “Food is the ingredient that binds us together” and it’ll take much more than the coronavirus to split the Lawtons apart, even though some of us are in Australia!

We created ‘The International Cookery School’. Through Facebook, we have been making the same dishes together at the same time. Ani is 14 and cooks from Australia in Fig Tree Pocket, and I (her gran) cook my dishes from Stratford Upon Avon.

Below are some pictures of the dishes we’ve made:

From top, left to right: chai chocolate pudding, flatbreads, caramel topped apple loaf, monsters, stuffed tomatoes, thai chicken curry.

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Ani is lucky to have such a wonderful family who are keeping connected by creating memories during these hard times through their love of food.

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve had fun reading our young writers writing about the foods they love and some of the foods engraved on their memories. Next time, on Youth Connectors, we want your stories about colour. Please do send us your submissions. We are particularly interested in finding out what colours you think best describe you.

In the meantime, take care and good luck with your results and future plans!

Click here to read Issue 5 of Write On! Magazine.

Desserts are more than just a sweet treat you eat at the end of your meal; it unfolds layers of memories and allows families to reminisce about all the good times that have passed, as well as those that are yet to come.